Three women were arrested yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona in connection with a 25 million dollar counterfeit coupon ring. It is one of the largest illegal couponing busts in history. This type of operation is bad news for consumers, stores and manufacturers so I thought this would be a great time to review some very important guidelines to make sure that we are all using coupons ethically.
Manufacturers provide us with the privilege of using coupons to save money on their products. When these coupons are not used as they were intended not only do the stores suffer (because they will not be reimbursed for the coupon), but the manufacturer and the consumers suffer as well. The more fraudulent coupon use there is the less coupons we will see.
There are a few important items I want to highlight that relate to ethical coupon use:
1. Only use a coupon on the product it was intended for. This not only includes just the product, but also the size and specific type of product. If the coupon says it is good on Huggies diapers, it is not ok to use it on Pampers diapers. If the coupon says it is good for a 24oz bottle of ketchup, it is not ok to use it on a 16oz bottle of ketchup. If a coupon says it is good on Honey Nut Cheerios, it is not ok to use it on plain Cheerios. If a coupon says it is good on 2 products it is not ok to use it on just one product. Manufacturers issue coupons for products to attract consumers to those specific products. Just because a coupon will scan for an item, that does not mean it is ok to use it on anything other than what it was intended for.
2. Expired coupons are just that, expired. Just as coupons are issued for specific products, they are also issued for specific ranges of time. When you use a coupon outside of its expiration date, it is considered fraudulent coupon use. Remember, you can always donate your expired coupons to overseas military families!
3. Follow store coupon policies. Yes, I know some of them do not make much sense, but the store has the prerogative to make their policy whatever they want. Keep in mind that items one and two above play a strong roll in stores cracking down on coupon use. You can access store coupon policies right here on Bargain Blessings.
4. Know what a fraudulent coupon looks like. A few of you have recently e-mailed me the PDF coupon pictured above. It is fraudulent, so don’t use it. You can read more about this specific coupon over on Frito Lay’s website. The bottom line is that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. PDF coupons for FREE items are always fraudulent. If you ever have a question on a coupon’s legitimacy, you can get more information on currently identified fraudulent coupons on the CIC (Coupon Information Corporation)’s website.
5. Making copies of internet printable coupons is illegal. This is one of the most frequent newbie couponer mistakes out there. You printed it out in black and white on normal printer paper, so you should be able to make a few copies…right? Nope! Most printable coupons are available in limited quantities. If a manufacturer only releases 10,000 coupons, but they get 30,000 turned in from stores, guess what…those stores are out that money for those extra 20,000 coupons. If that is not enough to stop you from copying coupons, you might like to know that printable coupons contain unique identifying information that can track that coupon right back to your computer. There have been cases of people getting arrested and prosecuted for making copies of coupons. I don’t say that to scare you, but to make you aware of the potential consequences of participating in this illegal practice. It isn’t worth it. Enough said.
As couponers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are participating in honest coupon use. I hope that this post has helped to shed some light on some areas that you may have been confused about.